Barcelona is simply a beautiful city – but with many tourists also come many pickpockets. Meanwhile, Barcelona is even known as the City of Pickpockets – a really sad title. When I recently had to go to the German Consulate of Barcelona for a document which we needed for our upcoming wedding, I was shocked to realize that there were almost exclusively tourist groups that just have been robbed among the waiting people, who needed a new ID card in order to be able to return to their country.
The pickpockets and the fear of scams should not stop you from visiting Barcelona, though. Unfortunately, being robbed can leave a really bad impression on this actually amazing city. In order to avoid pickpockets and scams, we have put together a list of the most common Barcelona scams and pickpocket strategies.
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Why are there so many pickpockets in Barcelona?
Like every city, Barcelona has many poor people. Especially immigrants who hoped for a better life in Catalonia find themselves without work due to the high unemployment rate in the country. The amounts of tourists who often walk around with a lot of money in their pockets are, of course, a great lure. You can usually find pickpockets and tourist traps in almost every tourist spot around the world. But why are so many of them in the Catalan capital?
The reason for this is the Spanish legal system. While pickpockets in other countries face heavy penalties, if they get caught with less than € 400 stolen property in Barcelona, nothing really happens to them. Exactly, if a pickpocket is caught red-handed and has captured less than € 400, he can just keep going and most likely will be back at work a few minutes later. It sounds incredible, but that’s how it works in Barcelona and other major Spanish cities at the moment.
And that, of course, attracts even more pickpockets to Spain. Entire clans who specialize in pickpocketing are moving to Barcelona. Only recently, we saw a documentary about the pickpockets of Barcelona, where whole gypsy families bragged about their wealth, which they had achieved by scamming and robbing tourists and locals.
Which is the target group of the pickpockets?
While initially, almost only tourists were the target of the thieves, there is no longer a clearly defined target group. They steal from everyone they are able to steal from. Of course, this is more often the case with foreigners and tourists – those who are (still) unfamiliar with the city and its culture often step gullibly into the trap.
But even those who are distracted and have their belongings out of sight can easily become victims of pickpockets and scammers. Tourists and expats who travel as digital nomads often like to carry cash or valuables such as cameras or laptops with them, which attract muggers. That’s why there are usually more pickpockets in the touristy areas of the city (In the next paragraph, you are able to read more about where to find them). Popular with the thieves are therefore mainly tourists, the elderly, and drunks.
Where is it most likely to find pickpockets?
First of all, you should never leave your valuables out of sight in Barcelona, wherever you are. Especially popular are places where there is a large number of people or where you are easily distracted. These include the subway (metro) of Barcelona, clubs, bars, restaurants, Las Ramblas, Barrio Gótico, the area around Sagrada Família, Plaza Cataluña, Park Güell, and similar attractions.
Also popular are Carrer Montcada, Carrer de la Princessa, Rambla de Raval, and Mercat Santa Caterina and its surroundings. Another popular area is places that are usually packed with people traveling with luggage, such as Sants Estació, Estació de França, the Estación del Nord bus station, and Metro line 9 (Orange), between Barcelona and El Prat Airport.
But not only in very crowded places you are more likely to come across pickpockets. Also, the city beaches of Barcelona are a very popular place for the “ladrones”. They wait for their victims to close their eyes, fall asleep, or leave their belongings unattended when they go for a bath in the sea. It’s therefore essential to always keep an eye on your belongings. If you are going to the beach alone, you might want to ask people next to you to watch your things or bring a waterproof bag you can take with you to the water.
Are there violent robberies?
Although there are violent robberies, as in every major city from time to time, the robberies in Barcelona are usually non-violent – quite the contrary, usually the people that just have been robbed only realize much later that they have just been robbed. In general, you shouldn’t have to worry about violent attacks in Barcelona. Who is traveling alone at night should be careful despite everything.
Who are those pickpockets?
While many people claim that they are mostly foreigners, there is no real standard pickpocket. You can find them in all age groups – even children and seniors are among the thieves, foreigners, but also many locals; Men, but also surprisingly many women.
General safety instructions and precautions for Barcelona
- Really Important: Under no circumstances let your belongings out of sight
- Try to show your valuables as little as possible – so leave your laptop inside your bag and your expensive jewelry at home
- If you are approached on the street, do not blindly trust anyone in the first place
- Learn the local police numbers before arrival: 112 or 092
- Have a bag/backpack that can not be opened without your knowledge, e.g. a theft-proof backpack
- Wear as few valuables as possible with you
- Take only as much money with you as you need for the day
- Make copies of your passport/ ID card or other important documents and keep them in different locations
- Try to appear self-confident because if you look lost, pickpockets might get attracted
- Be sure to get good travel insurance before your trip – World Nomads, e.g. also insures you against thefts while traveling
The most common tourist traps & Barcelona Scams and how to avoid them
In the following, we want to show you the most common tourist traps, scams, and theft scenarios so you can avoid them. The pickpockets of Barcelona are just getting smarter and constantly finding newer and more creative ways to rob you of your valuables. The newest and most common methods can be found here.
The easiest way to steal from you is to make body contact in some way, even if it’s only for a few seconds. Mostly it happens in crowded places like the most popular Barcelona sights, in clubs or the metro. Often, the pickpockets “accidentally” run into you and use those seconds to pull your phone or money out of your pocket. Many of you might think now, “I would note if someone was stealing from me!” – But no, you often just don’t notice it.
I also have been in this situation before when a pickpocket stole my best friend’s phone just after her arrival in Barcelona lightning fast while passing by in a crowded metro. He pulled the phone from her closed purse. We watched the man as he passed by very close to us while her bag seemed to follow him a little, almost like glued to his side. I remember even making a stupid joke along the lines of “You just arrived here and already start flirting…” as this guy wasn’t precisely her type nor even close to our age.
It was only a few minutes later, however, that we realized that he had actually just pulled her new cell phone from the handbag that was closed with a magnet when we got off the subway and noticed that her cell phone was suddenly no longer there, while the said man was already gone. Even my partner, that has stood right in front of us when the theft happened and was able to see everything from another angle, didn’t realize what was going on at all.
What you can do
Never let your valuables out of sight. Even a few seconds of carelessness can be too much. Put your hand on your bag while you are in the metro or in crowded places, or hang your backpack in front of your belly, so you have it in view. It also helps to use a combination lock or an anti-theft backpack.
The Classic + Distraction
Frequently, this classic variant of theft also occurs in group work. One or more people distract you while another person steals you unnoticed. Frequent variants are e.g. dancing with you in a club or soccer tricks on the open street, where an alleged footballer or street artist playfully kicks his ball around you or dribbles it through your legs, trying to get close to you. Either he steals your valuables while doing so or one of his colleagues while you are distracted by the ball or even involved in the game.
What you can do
Again, you can see that you must never be distracted from your valuables. Keep an eye on them all the time. Again, theft-proof backpacks or a combination lock on your luggage can be helpful.
This trick is also using some sort of distraction method, which is becoming increasingly popular in Barcelona. A person pretending to be a tourist asks you for directions on the street. While the alleged tourist gets you involved in a conversation, his colleague cleans out your backpack unnoticed. Even more popular is this trick with a city map spread out and held over your bag so that a colleague under the map can steal your belongings from your bag without you noticing it because your bag is hidden by the map.
What you can do
It’s almost logical: Why should a tourist ask another tourist for directions? Isn’t it obvious that an average tourist doesn’t know his way around the city? So if you are approached, refer to locals instead. If you know the way and want to help, put your hand over your pocket or pull it out from under the map, so it doesn’t get out of your sight.
Similar to the tourist trap just introduced, you will be approached here to participate in an alleged survey. The clipboard is held over your valuables so that your bag can be opened unnoticed.
What you can do
Not every survey you find in Barcelona is a tourist trap. There are even quite some polls taking place to improve the city. A good friend of mine is also employed by the city to conduct surveys, including some specially designed for tourists. However, these employees have a badge with their ID hanging noticeably around their necks and usually carry a laptop with them, in which the answers are registered, rather than a simple clipboard.
Never leave your valuables out of sight again, and make sure that the clipboard or the laptop does not cover your valuables. If you have a weird feeling about it, don’t take part in the survey. Trust your guts in this case.
The Tourist and the Police
This trick starts much like the previous one. A person speaks to you, asks you for the way/time or something along those lines, and disappears again. Shortly after, you will be approached by men who introduce themselves as undercover police officers, sometimes even identifying themselves with fake IDs. They state that the person who approached you earlier is suspected of drug trafficking or some sort of terrorism.
Now you will be asked to show your ID documents (which will be used to see where you have stashed your purse or as a distraction maneuver), or they ask to search your backpack. Either way, you’ll realize later that your valuables have disappeared. Some tourists are even asked to give their pins to verify their “identity”.
What you can do
Be sure to open your backpack only at the nearest official police station. On Google Maps, you can find the police station nearest to you. – Some fraudsters even use a wrong “police station” in which they make you sign false papers/purchase contracts or pay “penalties”. Therefore determine online whether it is a reputable police station.
This trick is not only popular in Barcelona but also in other countries. A person, usually an elderly lady, will give you a flower or a branch as an alleged gift. Now there are different variants if you accept the flower. She either grabs your wrist or pretends to read the future from it. But take care; all she does is try to steal from you. Especially wristwatches are very popular here. If this doesn’t work, she will try to force you to pay for her “service.” Or you have to pay for the flower even without predicting the future.
The last option is if you take out your money to pay, she will steal more money from your wallet unnoticed, or a colleague pulls it out of your hand and runs away.
What you can do
Under no circumstances accept the flower. Even if she emphasizes so often that it was a gift. If she tries to put it in your hand, just drop it and go on. The best is to not even stop if she approached you on the street.
Helpless old man
This trick seems brand new and is used for tourists as well as locals. An old man falls to the ground next to you. Of course, you’re running to help him and make sure he’s okay. While you take care of the old man on the ground, one or two more people appear who also seem to care about the old man. As soon as they have stolen your valuables since you are busy with the old man and therefore distracted, the old man can suddenly get up with the help of his helpers and walk away.
What you can do
Of course, you should definitely help and assume that this is not always a trick. Despite everything, you should never lose sight of your valuables. In such a situation probably easier said than done …
One thing you should not do in Barcelona is to eat in one of the restaurants in Las Ramblas. The prices are far above the normal prices, while the quality leaves much to be desired. While the restaurants here can already be seen as some sort of tourist trap, sometimes it gets even worse. – Of course, this can happen to you in any other restaurant or café in Barcelona as well. A group or individual sits down at the table next to you, only to disappear again after a short time – with them your luggage or valuables.
What you can do
Avoid the restaurants in Las Ramblas. Don’t hang your bag or backpack over the back of the chair but keep it in your lap or between your feet – put your chair leg through the loop of your backpack/bag.
Whether pigeons, seagulls, or monk parakeets, Barcelona is full of birds – So even more obvious that people usually don’t get suspicious in the first place when being are affected by the following tourist trap. As you walk through the narrow streets of Barcelona, the pickpockets throw a lubricate or smear unnoticed on your clothes. Shortly after, “helpers” rush by with wet wipes or tissues here “help” you clean the stains from your clothes. Meanwhile, they have a free hand to steal some of your valuables while distracting you. – Sometimes, this trick is done without liquids, and they just pretend to have seen a stain on your clothes.
What you can do
Make it clear immediately that you DO NOT need any help with cleaning. If the alleged helpers try to touch you anyway, clearly show that you don’t want that. If necessary, push them away from you. If you don’t have towels with you, you can get rid of the stains in the nearest public restroom. In my experience, restaurant staff are also usually very friendly and help you out with water and tissues or napkins.
As in most major cities, there are many false beggars in Barcelona. On their cardboard labels, they describe the saddest stories, which are, of course, usually just made up, which should move you to compassionate donations. Some of these beggars even come to your table while you sit outside in bars or restaurants and try to persuade you to make a donation. Some of these beggars even go so far as to claim that they are tourists and have just been robbed and now need money in order to go home or to get to the airport. (If that was the case, they should rather get to the nearest consulate from their country).
An even more lousy scam, which is, unfortunately, becoming more frequent, are beggars who, as soon as you open your purse to give them something, simply rip your money out of your hand and take off with it and thus fully exploit your good nature.
What you can do
Unfortunately, there is no way to estimate who really needs the money and who begs only as part of a tourist trap. Of course, one sympathizes with the poor people on the street, but unfortunately, with every real homeless man in Barna come even more false beggars and tourist traps. In this case, the only thing you can do is to keep walking. If they follow me or keep begging, I usually just pretend to neither speak Spanish nor English.
Alleged Helper on the Highway
Not only in Barcelona itself but also on the northbound highway (especially on the A7), tourist traps are waiting for you, especially if you are traveling in a car with foreign registration if it’s your own car or you are renting a car in Europe. From behind, a car is approaching, trying to get your attention with flares, horns, shouts, or throwing small stones at a flat tire. (In some cases, your tires have been pricked before, in other cases, it’s just a trick.) As soon as you stop to inspect your car, the perpetrators steal valuables from your car or even the entire car and leave you alone on the side of the road. This trick is nowadays extremely popular with scammers.
What you can do
If you are finding yourself in that situation, you should not stop. Drive to the nearest service area/gas station to check your car for damages. If you are being followed, you should call 112 and let them know about your situation. Do not leave valuables in the car, and don’t forget to lock your car even if you stay near or someone stays inside.
What to do if you have been robbed
Don’t panic, of course, it is a really bad feeling to be robbed and find yourself in a foreign country without money, a mobile phone, or a passport. But first of all, keep calm and work through the following steps.
- First of all, you should have all your credit cards and similar blocked, carry your credit card provider’s number with you at all times, and keep it separately from your valuables
- Next, you should lock your sim card, especially if you don’t have a prepaid contract – this is just a precaution, as the sim cards are usually discarded immediately after the theft, so they can not be located
- Next, you should head to the nearest police station – Get ready for long lines, because you are certainly not the only one who was robbed (your accommodation can help you find the nearest police station to you)
- Fill in a police report. All the better if you have the serial number of your stolen products with you. Be sure to leave your number if your stolen belongings are found. Again and again, wallets are simply thrown away after the money and credit cards have been removed – at least that’s how you might be able to get your IDs, etc. back – read more about that topic in the next paragraph
- Take your police report to the consulate of your country for a temporary passport or identity card that you need in order to fly back home
- Notify your insurance company about the loss
How to fill a Police Report
Although Barcelona is very touristy, you shouldn’t rely on anyone in the police station speaking English. If you can take a local to translate, the better. If not, the following points may be helpful.
- Include all serial numbers, ID card numbers, and passport numbers that you may have.
- Prepare for long wait times
- Use the following vocabulary list to fill in your police report
Vocabulary list for filling a police report
- Report – denuncia
- Theft – robo
- Mobile – móvil
- Money – dinero
- Wallet – cartera
- Laptop – portátil
- Passport – Pasaporte
- Identity card – Carné de identidad
- Police – policía
- Name – nombre
- Surname – apellido
- Address – dirección / domicilio
- Country – país de origen
- Passport number – número de pasaporte
Have you ever been robbed, or do you have some good safety tips for us? Please let us know in the comments below.
The described theft scenarios are based on own experiences, descriptions of locals from the Barcelona Residents against Robbery – Facebook-Group and general warnings.